Saturday, January 21, 2023

St. Simeon and His Pillars

No other human is more famous than Simeon Stylites the Elder, who is alleged to have lived for 36 years on top of a tall stone pillar about two feet wide. Why anyone would deprive himself of living his life to the fullest is quite bizarre.

St. Simeon advocated that, since Jesus suffered, his followers should follow his example of endless pain. As a monk in his native Syria, Simeon chained his right leg to a rock and performed miracles by healing the sick who flocked to see him. We are not sure if miracles were performed but writers about them seem to believe so.

Records show that Simeon walled himself during Lent and allowed all sorts of vermin to crawl on his body as a form of suffering. If historical record is correct, he never harmed any of them.

Simeon’s fanatical reputation grew far and wide and people traveled hundreds of miles to see him. He eventually grew weary of the attention and decided to escape the crowds by living on a pillar, closer to God, away from the daily pressures of the world. It was his effort of living on a deserted island without actually leaving his hometown.

At the age of 33, in 423 A.D., Simeon chose a stone column in his village of Telnishe in north Syria. The remains of these columns can be seen today. The initial column was 6 ft tall; over the next six or seven years he changed columns, eventually settling on a 72 ft high pedestal. For 30 years he never came down and had food and water brought up by ladder. The top of the column was 2 feet square, probably surrounded by a railing that would keep Simeon from falling down while he was sleeping. He was exposed to all elements and all seasons.

Simeon spent his entire life on fasting and prayer. His disciples listened to every word he shouted down to the base of the column and even counted the number of times that he prostrated during prayer.

Simeon was so famous for settling disputes that evidence exists in a letter in which some priests pledged, at Simeon’s determination, that they would never charge more than six percent interest on money they loaned. The usual at the time was twelve percent.

Simeon’s influential reputation extended to letters he wrote to people in power such as the Roman Emperor Theodosius II on behalf of the Syrian bishops, or a letter to the Patriarch Basil of Antioch in which he argued theology with them.

It is easy to consider St. Simeon as a fanatic and eccentric whose self-mutilation served very little purpose. But his Lebanese followers could argue the contrary.

When Simeon died in 459 A.D., his death was kept a secret to prevent his followers from dismembering his body for religious relics. Some teeth were stolen anyway as holy relics. He was eventually buried in the Church of Constantine in Antioch. Parishioners thought that his fanatical fame and deprivation would protect them from earthquakes which were occurring frequently in the area.

The cult of stylitism (living on a pillar) never took hold on religious followers but there were enough converts through the twelfth century. Some stylites lived in huts on top of a pillar, others lived in the hollows of the pillars. One notable convert lived ten years in a tub suspended between two pillars.

The most masochistic of St. Simeon’s disciples was St. Alypius, who is alleged to have lost use of his feet from standing on a pillar for 53 years near Adrianopolis (Edirne, Turkey today). For the next 14 years he was on his side on the pillar.

Christian monasticism did not limit itself to a monastery or a pillar like St. Simeon. A good majority of monks who wished to isolate themselves from the world during those times lived in caves dug onto the surrounding hills.

No comments:

Post a Comment